Quoted: on the anonymous leaker of the Panama Papers

“I don’t know the name of the person or the identity of the person. But I would say I know the person. For certain periods I talked to [this person] more than to my wife.”

Bastian Obermayer, reporter for German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, on the anonymous source who leaked offshore tax haven data from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonesca. The leak, which this weekend yielded numerous media reports of where the world’s rich and powerful — including Russian President Vladimir Putin, and family members of China President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister David Cameron — are parking their money, is being called the largest of its kind. It reportedly comprises more than 11 million records involving more than 200,000 offshore shell companies.

Obermayer tells Wired that the person who leaked the records contacted him via encrypted chat, and was unwilling to meet in person because of safety concerns. The newspaper then shared the information with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Wired has more on how today’s technology helped facilitate the massive leak and the reporting of it:

The ICIJ’s developers then built a two-factor-authentication-protected search engine for the leaked documents, the URL for which they shared via encrypted email with scores of news outlets including the BBC, The Guardian, Vice, and dozens of foreign-language media outlets. The site even featured a real-time chat system, so that reporters could exchange tips and find translation for documents in languages they couldn’t read.

Encryption and tools that allow for anonymity online have been in the spotlight lately. The Apple vs. FBI fight over unlocking an iPhone in connection with the San Bernardino terrorism investigation has sparked a debate about the pros and cons of encryption. And a recent global poll shows that a majority of people have a negative opinion of the “dark web,” a place where people can browse anonymously. Proponents of the dark web say it can give whistleblowers the courage to come forward.

Edward Snowden, who in 2013 leaked U.S. government documents that revealed massive NSA spying, tweeted about the Panama Papers leak Sunday:

And WikiLeaks, the organization that has leaked classified U.S. government and military documents over the past several years, tweeted this out Monday:

Photo: View of a sign outside the building where Mossack Fonseca law firm offices are in Panama City, on April 4, 2016. A massive leak of 11.5 million tax documents from the firm has exposed the secret offshore dealings of aides to Russian president Vladimir Putin, world leaders and celebrities. (RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/Getty Images)


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  • Alan

    Awesome work.
    Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.